Bikepacking from
Wyoming to California PART 2

Our experience on a 2-week bikepacking trip!

If you missed Part 1, click here. Otherwise, read on as we pick up on Day 6 in Provo, UT.

Day 6 was a happy morning. With no more time crunches, we could pedal our daily goal of 80 miles, depending on what lay ahead. The rest day made a huge difference, as did sleeping in. We were also able to ditch unwanted gear with Kimberly since, after 4 days of touring, it became clear we had more kit than we needed. Also, we’d been through the worst of the cold and wind. We lightened our loads, had a big, real breakfast, and got to work. We made it less than a mile before Corey broke a masterlink on his chain. Fortunately, the fix was quick and easy, and we were back at it. The wind was the lightest we’d encountered yet and would stay that way nearly the whole day. It’s amazing what an impact that can have on your mentality! Just out of Provo, we stopped – noticing a pack of beer on the side of the road. I’ve had a lot of “road finds” in my riding history, but a 6 pack of unopened, unattended, lonely beer on the edge of the road was a new one. After inspecting, we determined they’d been there a while and it wasn’t likely anyone was coming back for them, so we decided to help ourselves. They were skunky but tasted great anyway as they were still a bit cool from the night.

Our destination for the day was Delta, UT. Delta is where we would intercept Highway 50, the highway we’d use to get all the way to western Nevada. In a great mood from our rest day and the beer-fairy taking care of us, we were even more stoked to have a second road find that day – this time, a Spiderco pocketknife. It was small enough and light enough to bring, so we took it with us. We arrived in Delta, found a Maverick service station and to keep with the positive theme of the day, discovered they had Modelo brand Chelada beers. If you’ve never had a Michelada, think Mexican lager meets Bloody Mary. We figured tomato juice, lots of salt and a beer was the perfect recovery drink and way to wrap up a day. Before the trip ever started, we’d planned to have them daily, but had been hard pressed to find them up until this point. Wyoming and Colorado residents must not be fans of them. Previously, we’d been able to find the Budweiser version, but our favorite was the Modelo and Delta, UT delivered. Across the street there was a Little Caesars Pizza. We each got a pizza, put it in a bag (yes, literally transferred from a pizza box to a grocery bag) and pedaled out of town in search of a place to build a camp for the night. We still felt great and pushed on finding a camp spot at mile 106.

Still feeling reasonably fresh from our rest day and knowing our next destination was just about 80 miles down the road without too much climbing, we got some extra sleep and departed for our 7th day at 8:30. We also knew we’d be crossing the border into Nevada which meant we’d be leaving the Mountain Time Zone and entering Pacific Time Zone. We’d be gaining an evening hour and would not be nearly as pressed for time as we were in days prior. The desert landscaped started to look more like Nevada than Utah as we closed in on the boarder. The most unique part of the day was the lack of navigation needed. Delta, UT put us on onto US Hwy 50, our path for most of the remaining trip. Highway 50 is a transcontinental interstate running east-west and the section through Nevada is known as the loneliest highway in the US – for good reason! The road has hardly a bend in it and hardly a town on it. Once on Highway 50, there are no detours, no frontage roads, and really, not much of anything. We set our sights on the town of Baker, NV for the Border Inn and RV Park, appropriately named as it literally straddles the Utah-Nevada board. We also literally set our sights on it – with such straight roads, we could see our destination for the final 15+ mile. It was more discouraging than anything as we were in our usual afternoon head wind traveling at 10mph. 10mph is a horrid average speed as it makes the math for a given distance too easy – 15 miles to go at 10mph means another 1.5 hours of hard pedaling. The issue was compounded by our lack of water. Our last refill had been the night before in Delta. We’d made a dry camp 10 miles outta town and hadn’t passed any water resource. We were each down to our last few sips in that last 15 miles and nursed the water as we closed In on Baker. But the time passed and so did the desert mirages. Corey and I gave our usual city limit sprint, but in this case it was the stateline. We took advantage of the tent camping area and planted ourselves on a picnic bench in the shade by the casino/convenience store/gas station/restaurant/RV Park Office building. We each consumed a gallon or more of water, enjoyed a shower and even did some laundry. A long afternoon of rest was just what we needed.

Spending a week on Mountain Time made our first Pacific Time morning a breeze. We woke, had the luxury of some gas station coffee, and departed at 8am with roughly another 80 miles on queue for Day 8 Ely, NV was our next stop. The day was more mountainous than days prior, earning us our first high speed descents. For the first time in a week, we could coast down a hill and not loose momentum. Light winds and steeper terrain put smiles on our faces. As we approached Ely, the skies were grey and made for an epic landscape. We got lucky and timed our travel just ahead of a storm getting only a momentary and welcome sprinkle atop a climb with the luxury of a break at the summit to look back on the developing storm and take in the sounds of the thunder. Later, we spotted a roadside beer, unopened, amongst discarded empties. I’m not much of a Bud Light drinker, but there is something about finding a beer in the middle of nowhere that makes it taste so much sweeter. Sure, it was warm, but the day was cool, and it almost tasted like a hot cider. What are the odds of finding roadside beer twice in one trip?! We proceeded to Ely, a prison town, and received some of the hardest stares we had experienced on the trip. We hit the Ridley’s for groceries and stopped at a great taqueria for some hot food before rolling out of town to make camp.

Our 80-mile-a-day routine and the accumulating fatigue had us enjoying our 8am departures. Day 9 was more of the same. We could tell we were moving west as the weather kept getting warmer and the sun seemed to get stronger. Nevada has the most mountain ranges in the country and it was apparent were traversing a lot of them. It seemed that our destination towns were placed just west of a range and in required an ascent to get to them. Eureka, NV was no exception.

After a large climb and another mountain summit, we dropped into town. We’d make another dry camp outside of town and did an all-to-familiar gas station refuel to get us through the afternoon, evening, and the next day. We were generally chipper and began to taste how close to home we were. That days were counting down.

Day 10 threw a wrench in the mood. We rolled out at our new and accustomed time of day but were slapped in the face immediately with a headwind like the those we’d faced in Wyoming and Colorado. The road didn’t have a degree of change for 30 miles until we climbed a range that dropped us into a valley full of windmills – an indicator that the wind would not subside anytime soon. This culminated with a large climb up to the town of Austin, NV which sat just off the summit. A few switchbacks on an epic descent put us in the heart of town. Austin was an odd place – it seemed like the tourism board had tried to make it a destination, but town had struggled. Most places were permanently closed, but the local bar and restaurant was open. A porcelain toilet adorned the stairs to the porch, as did an eclectic mix of items that could only be described as somewhere between trash and vintage decor. We entered the twilight zone of an establishment, greeted by the proprietor. We ordered burgers, but the lemonade was the hero of the story. We were dried out from the wind and fresh, cold, liquid citrus hit the spot. But we didn’t settle in – the door of the building swung open and slammed shut by the wind ever minute or 2. And we were the only 2 patrons.

To our pleasure, 2 more patrons entered, mentioning they’d driven around town only to discover options were limited for dining. They were a friend pair of middle-aged women and noticing our bike gear (and likely our aroma) made conversation about our trip. They too were on a tour, of sorts – the husband of one of the women was riding his bike to Utah to visit family. She decided to go with him, but in the car leaping ahead from one from one roadside inn to the next and every watering hole in between. After a nice conversation, we departed, picked up more food and water for another dry camp outside of town and pedaled on. Austin was up in the range, so our departure was downhill, but the scene was eerie. As we descended, the valley that lay ahead appeared to be full of a haze or a dark fog. Given the day’s weather featured bright, sunny, cloud-free skies, it was confusing. As we hit the valley floor, we realized this “haze” was a dust storm. The wind had kicked up sand and dirt and dust and suspend it in the air. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bad, and we pressed on. Surprises of the day were not over, however. We soon crossed sections of roadway that appeared to be littered with quarter-size objects. Close inspection and some research revealed this to be Mormon Crickets. They formed dense bands across the entire width of the road for hundreds of yards at a time. Then there would be none. Then thousands more, then none. This went on for miles and miles. We moved quickly through these sections as they hoped around to dodge our tires. Some were bright red, some were dark black, others were tanner in color. Those that have been crushed by cars left a splattered mess and a foul smell. We made camp on the next summit recognizing this strange phenomenon seemed to be contained to the valleys.

We woke with the sun the morning of Day 11, and the first thing I heard was Corey saying “Hey, it’s cold, wanna sleep longer and let the sun warm things up a bit?” Without hesitation, I agreed and went back to sleep. An hour later, we were shaking ourselves clean. The dust storm of the prior day had settled and covered all our gear in or ultra-fine dirt. It seemed to get everywhere – inside the tent and inside the sleeping bag. After the clean-up, we departed. Our summit camp spot meant we avoided the plague of locust, but also meant our starting point was at well over 7000ft elevation. Bike bottles had again frozen overnight. Our first 16 miles of the day was a descent into the next valley. Even though we slept another hour, the air temperature was cold, and the wind chill was frigid getting off the mountain. Fingers and toes froze as we shivered our way down. By the time we dropped down to the valley, Corey had picked up some debris that caused a flat. We pulled over to fix it, but as we rolled again, he noticed his rear shifter had stopped working. We pulled the cable, messed with the rear derailleur, and confirmed that the shifter was, in fact, jammed. Perhaps the dust storm had done its worst on this component? Our roadside diagnosis was futile, and we worked the cable and limits to get the chain in the middle of the cassette.

We continued our trip with Corey relegated to a 2-speed bike. Motivation was high to make Fallon, NV in hopes that we could find a bike shop or at least have a place to lean the bike and try to work on it further. Fallon would provide us with a 100-mile day. Wind had shifted and was blowing from the north. With some southern travel, we took as much advantage of the tail wind as we cool, considering Corey’s gearing limitations. Roughly our halfway point, we made a stop at Middlegate for a quick burger and beer. The bar at middle gate is a popular watering hole for OHV vehicles playing at Sand Mountain. We were early enough in the day to beat most of the crowds but rushed back to the bikes to ride the more favorable wind before the weather changed its mind. Climbs were slow going as Corey muscled his loaded bike over them. Descents weren’t much better as he was forced to coast after quickly spinning out. We made it to Sand Mountain before our 3rd mechanical of the day arose – a jammed chain snapped a link. We determined this was likely the result of extreme chain angles and the extra force of climbing with a loaded bike in a tall gear combination. After removing a bent link and pinning the chain back together, we were off and made it to Fallon. There was no bike shop to be found, but a Little Caesars Pizza was calling our names again, as were Modelo Micheladas. It was time for a shower and some laundry. We made camp at an RV park in town, cleaned ourselves, our clothing and tried to better Corey’s shifting. The first two were a success, but the bike remained in its shift-less state. Corey would have to ride another day on a 2-speed bike.

The down time fighting mechanicals the day prior had us repeating the sleep-in mantra of the of the of the previous morning. That, and the fact that we knew our next stop was Reno, NV – a short day – only 68 miles to get there! Our camp for Day 12 would be no camp at all; Corey’s cousin is a Reno resident and had offered to host us at his house for the night. I was looking forward to my first real bed, first home cooked meal and first roof over my head since the start of our tour. Departing Fallon, NV was also our departure from Highway 50. But what kind of a day would it be without an early mishap? Riding the road shoulder of a busy, trafficked, debris-covered highway led to yet another flat tire on the edge of town for Corey. The culprit was the same tire as before and with over 1000 miles on that rear tire with a loaded rig and 3 flats, Corey opted to change the tire completely, hoping for better luck the rest of the trip. Thank goodness he’d packed a spare! We were grateful the terrain was mostly flat as we cruised toward Dayton, NV the first 40 miles of our day.

As we gained on town, a herd of wild horses crossed in front of us before we turned onto Six Mile Canyon Road toward Virginia City. The name of the road is quite literal – it’s a 6 mile, twisting canyon road that climbs up to Virginia City, a historic western town. Corey was a champ on the steep and pitchy climb, pedaling something like a 36x18 gear ratio. I did my best to match his gear as long as I could on the climb but bailed on the steepest pitches toward the end. A bustling, tourist town, we popped out in Virginia City and were reminded it was the weekend by groups of motorcycles out for rides and hordes of families battling for the limited parking. We passed through as quick as we could and scurried up a few more climbs along Geiger Grade before having the realization that we were almost home. The top of Geiger was our first view of the Sierra Nevada mountains – the range that divides Nevada from California. It was a moment of inspiration followed by a descent of the Northwest side of Geiger Grade down to Reno. This was certainly an all-time top descent – smooth, predictable, wide shoulder, no debris, brakeless and fast! Our only regret was not having been able to ride it on standard road bikes with working gears.

We dropped into Reno, full of smiles and stoked on the fantastic ride down the grade. We navigated to Raising Canes fried chicken to replenish our sodium levels and caloric needs. Corey’s cousin, Erik, met us there and shuttled us across the busy city to his place for the night. Reno is only a 3-hour drive from Chico. Both Corey’s wife, Kimberly, and my wife, Britiany, met up with us at Erik’s house to play “soigneurs” for the evening, making us dinner, dressing our sunburns and rashes, replenish our ride food and generally contributing to the chipper mood. Perhaps most importantly, however, Kimberly was able to source and bring a replacement shifter to fix Corey’s bike. We swapped for the new shifter, and he was back to full-capacity equipment. We ate, drank and were merry.

Day 13 was bittersweet. We felt like we’d just celebrated the completion of the tour the night before, but really had 2 more days to go. After a big breakfast, we were moving slow and departed late morning. The night before, there was some debate over what route to take – more direct options meant more dirt and climbs while the indirect choices were more trafficked and included riding along a freeway for a stint. We opted for the later given our bad luck with mechanicals the last few days. Our target was to get to Quincy, CA as Highway 70 would be our passage through the Sierra Nevada’s into the California Central Valley. Roughly 100 miles lay ahead. The paved route from Reno to Highway 70 requires hoping onto Highway 395. This is a multi-lane highway with 70mph traffic, overpasses, on-ramps – the works. We tried to skirt along it on frontage roads, but they would quickly terminate. We noticed a dirt road that paralleled the highway and gave it a go, but it was very primitive and featured deep sand and punchy hills. We abandoned our detour and bit the bullet and road along 395 as safely as we could – all lights on, high viz worn, far right on the edge of the road, and pedal fast. We received some strange looks as we rode through an agricultural check station but were waved through. We took the off-ramp for Highway 70, an area known as Halleluiah Junction, with excitement – both glad to be off the busy road and fully aware that Highway 70 would take us to Butte County, home of Chico, CA, our destination. But a busy weekend day on Highway 70 had us on edge as motorist made close, high-speed passes and dangerous overtakes. At one point, we pulled off just to take a break and relax from the stress of the situation. Portola was the town next on queue.

We passed through aiming for The Brewing Liar, a fun, alpine, outdoor brewery in the woods. As we pulled in, I heard my name shouted from across the way. It was some friends, Rob and Emily, who’d made the trip up from Chico for a family visit and to get in some trail running. It was a pleasant surprise to see friendly faces and enjoy a beer together. But Quincy still lay up the road. We pressed on, riding into the evening thanks to our late start, detours and backtracks. Quincy is a sleepy mountain town and arriving on a Sunday evening meant most businesses were closed. The old standby Polka Dot burger shake was, however, open. We chowed down and cruised through town to camp on the other side. We’d made it to the trees of the Sierra’s and appreciated the protection they gave from the sun and wind as well as their beauty in the sunset. As we exited town, the shoulder of the road was partially blocked by a dead mountain lion. Seeing the creature so close was incredible. The size of its paws and length of its tale were spectacular up close. We weren’t happy it was dead, but glad we weren’t observing it live at the same distance. We pressed on to set up camp before dark, enjoying a stealthy, treed, side of the road camp in the fresh air and trees of our home mountains. Sure, there were mosquitoes it the wetter environment of the Feather River Canyon, but it was worth it. A friend from Chico, Ken, wanted to join for the last leg of the trip and got dropped off just after dark to camp for the night.

Day 14 was the final stretch to home! We had 75 miles on deck, lots of descending out of the mountains and were very motivated to get home. With the idea that a Monday morning might mean light traffic, we got an earlier start, rolling before 8am. Riding along the Feather River is a favorite of mine. Ken had fresh legs and was happy to tow us along. This made the morning that much nicer. Only 2 hours in, we stopped for a swim at the Rock Creek Bridge. It wasn’t hot and the swimming hole was in the shade. The air temperature was chilly and the water temp chillier, but getting to swim in a body of water was so appealing, we all got in. The rest of the day was mostly uneventful, with only a sign turner stopping us for construction a couple times. Every pedal stroke brought us closer to the end. To keep with the near-daily ritual, we stopped at the last convenience store outside of town for our typical lunch break, scoring a last Michelada. It was only fitting that the last leg in was a strong, head-crosswind. But we were ecstatic to have an extra set up legs to share the pulls.

Rolling into town was such an accomplished feeling. We were home and we’d made it under our own power and (mostly) our own support. I was looking forward to a mattress, running water, real food and the luxuries of modern life. It didn’t take but a moment for me to realize how much I was going to miss touring life. Its such simple living – wake up, tear down camp, eat everything you can, pedal all day, make camp and repeat. Being out in the wild on a big adventure is something very special and rare for most. It’s testing, but potentially life changing. There is time to think and be alone with your thoughts. Distractions don’t exist. The things that matter each day are so different than what matters in your typical day-to-day. Did I want to set up a tent that night and pedal again the next day? Not really. But did I want the experience to end? Nope. It was brutally difficult and terribly exhausting. It was dirty and mean at times. But the saddle is a home of sorts. Not to be cliché, but the experience was, in a word, surreal. This was my first long tour, but it will not be my last.

I hope you enjoyed following along with the trip. If you’ve been inspired to go on your own trip and don’t know where to begin, we wrote some articles that might assist you. But the best advise we can give you is to get out there and do it!

Miss the first part? Read about it here:

Stats

Continued:

LocationDistanceMoving TimeAscentInfo
Day 6Provo, UT to Delta, UT106 miles6h:42m3,127ftStayed at an RV park in Provo. Back at it today. Finally, a lighter wind day! Corey broke a masterlink 1 mile into the ride. Scored a REAL Modelo MICHELADA and a Little Caesar’s Pizza in Delta. Onto hwy 50 through Nevada until Reno. Stoked to have found a six pack of Corona on the roadside! Had 2 each. Also found a nice knife on the side of the road. Camped outside of Delta.
Day 7Delta, UT to Baker, NV (Board Inn)82 miles5h:32m3,350ftFinished with Utah. Stayed at the Board Inn RV park. Nice long afternoon and time zone change bought us an extra hour of rest. Showers, laundry, rest.
Day 8Baker, NV to Ely, NV78 miles6h:03m5,322ftNear Baker, UT (Boarder Inn RV park) to just past Ely, NV. Carnitas Torta in Ely. Grocery store refuel for a dry camp. Found MICHELADA #5. Found ANOTHER unopened roadside beer! Had some descents that put us in the 40mph range. Able to coast them - all descent prior were pedally and very slow.
Day 9 Ely, NV to Eureka, NV 80 miles 5h:27m3,973ft Camped outside Ely, NV. Pit stopped in Eureka, NV and cruised on to make camp outta town. Uneventful day. Lighter winds, a sizable climb, lots of desert and sun.
Day 10Eureka, NV to Austin, NV73 miles6h:36m4,455ftOutside Eureka to Austin. Then pedaled on a ways. Back to the wind wind wind. Just like WY, it was a slow head wind wind alllll day long.
Day 11 Austin, NV to Fallon, NV 99 miles 5h:25m 1,785ftVery cold morning leaving camp. Slept at a summit around 7500’ elevation. Some more frozen bottles. All the layers on for the descent. Grateful for a mostly-north wind on a day with lots of southern travel. We had lots of descending and tail cross wind so we covered ground quickly but we’re plagued with mechanicals. Corey got a flat who he as quickly followed by his rear shifter dying. Later, he snapped his chain. We arrived at our camp site at the RV Park in Fallon, NV, where he sprung another flat. Hoping for better luck tomorrow!
Day 12Fallon, NV to Reno, NV68 miles4h:42m3,858ftLeft the RV park in Fallon. Lots of road debris caused flat #3. Headed up toward Virginia City. Made for a big climb as Corey’s shifter was broken. Dropped down Geiger (top 5 descent I’ve ever ridden) into Reno.
Day 13 Reno, NV to Quincy, CA 97 miles 6h:15m 4,285ftLate start after staying in Reno at Corey’s cousin’s place. That ladies came up to cook for us and spend time with us. Cruised through Reno to 395 to 70. Stopped outside Portola at the brewing lair for a beer and ran into Emily and Rob! Dinner in Quincy and a road side camp just outta town. Great to be outta the desert and into the trees. Ken met up for the night to ride the last leg with us.
Day 14 Quincy, CA to Chico, CA 75 miles4h:05m 2,149ftLast day! Quincy area to Chico. Stopped at a bridge on 70 for a deep water solo rock climb and some refreshing morning swimming. Snagged our last MICHELADA at 4 corners and cruised on home. It was only fitting to have a nasty head wind that last leg of the trip! Super grateful to have Ken with us for a 3rd person to rotate with.

Totals

14 days total, 13 days pedaling (one rest day)

TotalsDaily Averages
1143 miles 87.9 miles
81 hours, 47 min 6 hours, 17 min
51,287ft Elevation3,945ft Elevation